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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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As a modern political movement, socialism arose in
the early and middle decades of the nineteenth century.
As an idea, it can be discerned much earlier in mythic,
philosophic, and theological thought. In the simplest
sense, socialism amounts to a belief that all producers
ought to share equally in the fruits of combined labor.
On a deeper level, socialism is more than an economic
formula, and even more than a prescription for justice.
It is an expression of faith in the capacity of the
mass of mankind to overcome what is thought of
as an alienation or estrangement from its own essential
nature, which socialists contend is far more creative,
pacific, and altruistic than actual experience might

Until comparatively recently, this faith was usually
circumscribed by an oppressive awareness of the
constraints, both natural and artificial, preventing or
distorting the expression of true humanity. Material
scarcity and moral weakness were held to require and
even to justify social systems in which inequality and


hierarchy were assumed to be synonyms of order. All
egalitarian alternatives were likely to be dismissed as
impractical. Equality was thought of as a standard that
may once have had bearing in the remote past, or that
might apply in the distant future, but that could have
no great relevance to present conditions, except as an
invitation to chaos. Because it was treated as an
impractical ideal, the idea of equality remained vague
and undifferentiated, a catch-all for panaceas of every
description, and an easy target for skeptics.

Socialism was for a long time one facet of this rela-
tively amorphous ideal, evident in romantic evocations
of primitive innocence, in millenarian prophecies of
future perfection, in the more radical theologies of the
Protestant Reformation, in secular utopias, and in some
of the social criticism of the French Enlightenment.
In the nineteenth century these intimations were
transformed into elaborate arguments for social change
taking essentially two forms. One view held that
cooperative communities are within the realm of pos-
sibility, provided they are constructed with careful
attention to individual and social needs. The other, put
forward by Karl Marx, conceived of socialism as a stage
of historical development, destined to be achieved after
a worldwide revolution by the working class against
private property and those who benefit from it. In this
view, the ideal community cannot be planned in ad-
vance and put into operation regardless of historical
conditions; it must arise out of revolutionary activity
and will be successful only when historically appro-
priate. This distinction between socialism as a theory
of the planned community and socialism as the out-
come of an historically determined revolution, starkly
clear in the nineteenth century, was adumbrated even
earlier, but overshadowed by the tendency to think
of socialism in all its forms as an impossible phantasy.

The first traces of socialism appear in the lament
for a lost “Golden Age,” a common theme in antiquity.
Greek myths, recorded as early as the eighth century
B.C. and derived from an even older oral tradition,
recall an original state—the Age of Cronus—when all
shared equally in the common lot, private property
was unknown, and peace and harmony reigned undis-
turbed. These myths, as Lovejoy and Boas point out,
describe either a “soft” or a “hard” primitivism: some
depict a time of abundance and luxury in which human
labor is unnecessary because the earth produces its
bounty spontaneously; others depict a time of simple
needs and satisfactions. Poetic renderings contrast the
innocence of the original conditions with the degener-
acy of actual society. The Golden Age, so the accepted
interpretation ran, “was enjoyed by a different breed
of mortals, in a different condition of the world and
(in one version) under different gods, and no practical
moral could therefore consistently be drawn from it
for the guidance of the present race. It was by implica-
tion irrecoverable, at least by men's own efforts”
(Lovejoy and Boas, Primitivism, p. 16).

The same melancholy reflection takes philosophic
form in the Platonic dialogues. In the Laws the
“Athenian Stranger,” who seems to express Plato's own
view, pays tribute to the ancient ideal: “The first and
highest form of the state [polis] and of the government
and of the law is that in which there prevails most
widely the ancient saying, that 'Friends have all things
in common” (Laws 739, trans. B. Jowett). Although
such perfection is beyond revival, he adds, no better
system could be conceived. In the Republic, however,
Socrates is represented as believing that even in an
ideal society communism could be a way of life only
for a moral and intellectual elite. The superior philo-
sophic capacity of the guardians or rulers would enable
them to ignore the demands of appetite; their role
would require that they be disinterested in all but the
dispensing of justice. Otherwise, equality for unequals
is criticized as a self-contradictory proposition which
can only result in danger for society, as the chaotic
experience of democracy proves all too well.

In his Politics Aristotle is skeptical of all proposals
for communism, including the limited version advanced
in Plato's Republic. Collective ownership flouts the
most fundamental axioms of human nature; property
held in common is likely to remain untended and
uncultivated. Far better, in Aristotle's view, is the
practice followed in Sparta, where goods were pri-
vately owned but made available by their owners for
public use. The rightly ordered polis will apply the
principle of distributive justice, or proportional equal-
ity. Absolute or numerical equality reflects only one
of the claims that may legitimately be made by citi-
zens—the claim that as members of society they
deserve identical treatment. If equity and stability are
to be served, however, other claims must also be rec-
ognized, such as those based upon superiority of intel-
lect, contribution to the welfare of society, and birth
or status.

The notion that differences in intellect justify social
inequality was challenged by the Stoic school which
arose in the third century B.C. in the waning years of
the Greek polis and achieved a considerable influence
during the expansion of Rome. This influence was more
ethical than political, however. Although the Stoics
taught that the universality of reason rendered men
equals by nature, they did not go on to argue that
natural standards could be applied in conventional
societies. Like the Cynics, they lamented the departure
from the equality decreed by nature and criticized
especially inhumane attitudes and practices, but could


see no way to return corrupt society to its natural
innocence. The best that might be hoped for, according
to such spokesmen for a mature Stoic view as Cicero
and Seneca, was that less fortunate classes, including
slaves, would be treated charitably, in recognition of
the essential unity of all mankind.

In Rome the attitude shared by citizens and philoso-
phers alike found expression in the festival of the
Saturnalia. Once each year the Age of Saturn (the
Roman form of Cronus) was memorialized: slaves dined
with masters and distinctions were temporarily forgot-
ten. In at least one non-Roman version of this cere-
mony, the moral behind the festival is said to have
been made explicit beyond any doubt: a criminal
was elevated to the ruler's throne during the celebra-
tion and executed as soon as it was over, as a warning
to subject classes of what they might expect from
attempts at revolution.

To these classes, Christian teachings may have
seemed more radical than Stoicism, especially since the
spiritual egalitarianism of the Gospels appeared to
make the argument over degrees of rationality irrele-
vant. Of what consequence were differences of intellect
if, in the eyes of God, every man had a soul and all
souls were alike worthy? The “poor in spirit” (Luke
6:20, King James ver.) could well have read social
significance into Saint Paul's announcement that with
the advent of the Redeemer “there is no such thing
as Jew and Greek, slave and freeman, male and female;
for you are all one person in Christ Jesus” (Galatians
3:28, The New English Bible, London, 1961). According
to Saint Luke, the apostles could be said to have prac-
ticed communism: “Not a man of them claimed any
of his possessions as his own, but everything was held
in common.... They had never a needy person among
them, because all who had property in land or houses
sold it, brought the proceeds of the sale, and laid the
money at the feet of the apostles; it was then distrib-
uted to any who stood in need” (Acts 4:32-35, The
New English Bible

As the expectation of an imminent apocalypse
receded, millenarian enthusiasm became an embar-
rassment and a threat to the order of society and the
unity of the Church. Authoritative interpreters of the
Gospels insisted that they must not be read as a call
to social revolution. An apostle had also declared that
“the authorities are in God's service” (Romans 13:6,
The New English Bible). Although God had intended
men to live together as brothers in an earthly paradise,
Saint Cyprian, Saint Zeno of Verona, and Saint
Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, all observed that human
wickedness had frustrated this intention. Until the
Parousia or Second Coming of Christ, the Christian
was obliged to endure worldly corruption with pa
tience and obedience. The most influential of the
Church Fathers, Saint Augustine, asserted in The City
of God
(A.D. 413) that the injustices of the earthly city
were God's judgment upon human sinfulness. While
the pious Christian lived “like a captive and a stranger”
(Book 19, Ch. xvii) in the unredeemed world, he was
to cling to his faith but accept his station in life, what-
ever it might be.

The medieval canonists, who were the principal
apologists for papal supremacy, added more positive
justifications of inequality. Unity required subordi-
nation and discipline. Hierarchy in the Church and
society reflected the superiority of the soul to the body,
as well as the order of the cosmos, the very architecture
of God. Communism was appropriate only for those
exceptional ascetic virtuosos in holy orders seeking to
escape attachments to the flesh and the world. Move-
ments outside the Church, however, such as those of
the Cathars, Waldenses, and Free Spirits, even though
they aimed at a similar perfection, if not always
through asceticism, were condemned as dangerous

Both the example and the teachings of monastic and
sectarian movements nevertheless stood in pointed
contrast to official dogma. As feudal society disinte-
grated under a complex network of strains, including
princely ambition, conflicts over clerical appointments,
splits within the Church, the expansion of commerce,
and the rise of independent cities, the hold of the
orthodox view weakened and the appeal of alternatives
rose. One distinctly unorthodox alternative was posed
by a twelfth-century Calabrian monk, Joachim of
Floris, who preached an historicized doctrine of the
Trinity resembling that earlier condemned in Montan-
ism. According to Joachim, the incarnation was to be
understood as an evolutionary succession of three ages
or dispensations: of the Father or law, of the Son or
Gospel, and of the Holy Spirit. The process was to
be completed between 1200 and 1260 under the aegis
of a new order of monks which would direct the over-
throw of Antichrist. Through their triumph, the Holy
Spirit would permeate all mankind and servitude and
obedience would be replaced by universal love. The
Joachimite prophecy inspired a wing of the Franciscan
order, the Franciscan Spirituals, to imagine themselves
successors of the Church appointed to lead Christen-
dom toward the millennium.

Variations of the same prophecy assigned a messianic
role to the Emperor Frederick II. Even after the death
of Frederick, it was widely hoped that he would some-
how reappear and usher in the last days by striking
down the corrupt clergy. In the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries, peasant rebellions erupted in many
parts of Europe, in response to changing economic


conditions as well as visionary preaching. Religious
protests, such as those led by John Ball and John
Wycliffe in England and by the Hussites and Taborites
in Bohemia, weakened adherence to the Church and
eventually brought on the full-scale reformations of the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the Protestant
Reformation, the eschatological underground came to
the surface in the general upheaval and made a note-
worthy impact. Thomas Müntzer and Gerrard
Winstanley, the leaders of two distinct movements on
the “left-wing of the Reformation” (Bainton) can fairly
be regarded as among the most direct theoretical pre-
cursors of modern socialism.

Müntzer was a fiery zealot who broke with Martin
Luther and raised a more radical and mystical standard
than Luther and the other moderate reformers were
willing to accept. In 1525 he led an army of peasants
in an abortive revolt which ended with his capture
and execution. Although there is little in Müntzer's
sermons and letters explicitly advocating communism,
he was regarded by his contemporaries as a revolu-
tionary in every respect—an “uproarious spirit”
(Aufrührischen Geist) in Luther's words. Müntzer
earned this reputation by demanding total reform,
temporal as well as ecclesiastical. Warmly acknowl-
edging his debt to the “weighty testimony” of Joachim,
Müntzer saw himself and his Allstedt Bund performing
the role the Franciscan Spirituals had earlier sought
to assume. Unlike the monks, Müntzer saw no reason
to refrain from violence against “godless” opponents.
The “fifth monarchy” foretold by the prophet Daniel,
he believed, could only follow the physical destruction
of the first four, the last of which remained to be

Müntzer's “Revolutionary, or charismatic, Spiritual-
ism” (Williams and Mergall, p. 32) rejects the view
of more moderate reformers that the Bible and sacra-
ments, but not a clerical hierarchy, should mediate
between God and man. In order to become one with
Christ (Christformig), he claimed, the believer had to
experience an identification with God directly and
without mediation. This theological radicalism enabled
Müntzer to regard himself and his followers as “an élite
of amoral supermen” (Cohn, Ch. vii) released from
ordinary ethical injunctions in their role as a vanguard
of the millennium. Sectarian quietism and withdrawal
were also rejected in favor of the revolutionary
activism of a mass movement. In contrast to Müntzer,
the militant Anabaptists who took control of Münster
and whose communism and polygamy seemed scandal-
ous to all of Europe, were far more conventional in
their views, since they continued to believe in the need
to isolate themselves from worldly corruption in order
to live a perfect life above the law.

Winstanley experienced a revelation in which he and
his followers were instructed to seize certain lands and
cultivate them in common so as to restore the “holy
community,” an ideal they shared with other Puritans.
No one, he declared, ought to be “Lord or landlord
over another, but whole mankind was made equall, and
knit into one body by one spirit of love, which is Christ
in you, the hope of glory” (Works [1649], p. 323). The
creation and redemption express a dialectic of separa-
tion and reunion: spirit and man are separate at first
but in the end “man is drawne up into himselfe again,
or new Jerusalem... comes down to Earth, to fetch
Earth up to live in that life, that is a life above objects”
(Works [1650], p. 453). It is only a “strange conceit”
to imagine a new Jerusalem “above the skies” (Works
[1649], p. 226).

Winstanley and Müntzer share a mystical and so-
cially activistic theological perspective. In Win-
stanley's case, this perspective issues in a pacifistic
orientation toward labor in common; in Müntzer's, it
serves to promote violent revolution. Had the left wing
succeeded in impressing itself more fully upon the
main carriers of reform, the distinction that was to
arise in the nineteenth century between voluntaristic
and revolutionary socialists might have been felt ear-
lier. In fact, however, the impact of the left wing
was ephemeral. The most significant social residue of
the Reformation was the attitude Max Weber de-
scribed as the “Protestant ethic,” or the exhortation
to economic individualism as proof of piety and
predestination. Protestantism lent legitimacy to a
limited egalitarianism by sanctioning economic com-
petition and moral autonomy, but it offered no war-
rant for socialism, which continued to be regarded
as “utopian.”

The term “utopia” came into use after 1516, when
Thomas More published his work of that name boldly
denouncing the vicious effects of private property and
commerce, especially as they were evident in the
enclosure movement in England. The sheep, he wrote,
had begun to devour men and to consume whole fields,
houses, and cities; a true commonwealth, as distinct
from those which go by the name but are merely
conspiracies of rich men, would be possible only if
property were held in common. More's hostility toward
private property and his advocacy of communism
joined a traditional Christian disapproval of worldly
avarice and corruption with an attack upon contem-
porary economic inequities. Many later and more
secular writers, including Francis Bacon and Thomas
Campanella in the seventeenth century, followed
More's example by inventing other utopias, both in
order to give freer reign to the imagination and to
publish more radical social criticism than might have


been safe to broach in an essay or treatise. As a device
and a literary genre, the utopia came to replace the
prophecy of religious apocalypse as a vehicle for the
expression of radically egalitarian sentiments.

The dominant tendency of social theorizing, in the
period following the Reformation and culminating in
the French Revolution, is more accurately reflected in
the work of the natural rights-social contract school.
These theorists secularized and transformed traditional
natural law doctrines into justifications for limited
government and civil liberty. In the process, the right
of private property was established as one of the most
fundamental of all natural rights. John Locke argued
that while God had originally given the earth to men
in common, He meant it for “the use of the Industrious
and the Rational” (Second Treatise of Government
[1690], Ch. V, para. 34). The right to appropriate was
subject to the limits of the law of nature, but the
introduction of money by tacit consent made evasion
of these limits legitimate. The main objective of the
social contract was therefore the protection of the right
of property, broadly understood as life, liberty, and
estate and more narrowly as material possessions. James
Harrington argued in Oceana (1656) that agrarian
republics could survive only if effective limits were
put upon acquisition, especially of land, but neither
Harrington nor any other English theorist of this cen-
tury was in any sense an advocate of socialism.

The French Physiocrats, who coined the term laissez-
agreed with Locke in regarding the right to
private property as the foundation of law and eco-
nomic progress. Otherwise, the leading writers of the
French Enlightenment were rather less enthusiastic in
their support for economic individualism. Generally,
the attitude of the philosophes resembled that of the
Stoics. Equality, Voltaire wrote, “is at once the most
natural and at the same time the most chimerical of
things.” Although nature makes men equal, “on our
miserable globe it is impossible for men living in soci-
ety not to be divided into two classes, one the rich
who command, the other the poor who serve” (Philo-
sophic Dictionary
[1769], trans. P. Gay, New York
[1962], I, 245). Similarly, although Rousseau issued a
stinging indictment of the evils of property, he did not
propose that the right of property be abolished. The
most that could be hoped for, according to Rousseau,
Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Louis de Jaucourt in the
Encyclopédie, was that enlightened rulers would elimi-
nate extreme inequalities and alleviate the plight of
the poor.

In the latter half of the eighteenth century, some
theorists contended that the natural condition of
society must have been one of collective rather than
private ownership. Among them were Thomas Raynal,
Jean Meslier, Gabriel de Bonnot de Mably, Simon
Linguet, and the all but anonymous Morelly. But ex-
cept for Morelly's Code de la nature (1755), which
advocates a return to communism, the others agreed
with Mably that although the communism of Sparta
and the religious orders was closer to nature than the
modern worship of wealth and luxury, “where property
has once been established it is necessary to regard it
as the foundation of order, peace, and public safety”
(Oeuvres, IX, 13).

The detached skepticism and critical resignation
which characterized the Enlightenment were swept
aside by the enthusiasm for total renovation accompa-
nying the French Revolution. Even so, all but a handful
of the leading figures in the Revolution, including the
Jacobins, were committed to the retention of private
property. The demand for a more radical reform
emerged among a minority of disaffected revolu-
tionaries. Their major spokesman was François-Noël
(Caius Gracchus) Babeuf, the leader of a small
“Conspiracy of the Equals” to which a larger number
of Jacobins had attached themselves. Along with other
conspirators, including Sylvain Maréchal, the author
of the provocative Manifesto of the Equals (1796),
Babeuf was arrested and tried for plotting to overthrow
the Directory. In his defense, Babeuf insisted that he
was acting in the service of the Revolution, which
would remain incomplete while there was still
inequality. Borrowing a distinction drawn by the mod-
erate Girondin, the Marquis de Condorcet, Babeuf
argued that the Revolution had so far established only
legal equality, but not “real” equality. Since even
superior intelligence and exertion do not “extend the
capacity of the stomach,” it was “absurd and unjust”
to distribute rewards on any basis other than need
(Advielle, Babeuf, II, 38). The revolution of 1789 was
therefore merely the forerunner of “another revolution,
greater and even more solemn, which will be the last”
(ibid., I, 197). It would be accomplished, however, not
by legislative assemblies, but by the broad masses of
the people.

Although Babeuf's conspiracy was finally crushed,
babouvisme, with its emphasis on the revolutionary
role of the working class, had a lingering influence
upon socialist theory. It was only after the Napoleonic
Wars, however, that modern socialism took definitive
form. In the usage it now has, the word “socialist”
appeared in print for the first time in 1827 in the
Co-operative Magazine published by the followers of
the industrial reformer, Robert Owen. In 1832, as le
it made its debut across the Channel in Le
the journal of a band of practical and visionary
reformers inspired by the theories of Henri de Saint-
Simon. In this germinal period, socialism had its great-


est vogue in France, where the hold of more conven-
tional ideas had been rudely shaken by waves of
revolution. The aims and outcome of this series of
upheavals were subjects of intense controversy and
socialism appeared to its adherents and even to some
of its detractors as the logical fulfillment of the process
of change which had begun in 1789. By about 1840
the term was commonly applied to a fairly wide array
of doctrines, all sharing an intensely critical attitude
toward existing social systems and a firm conviction
that radical transformation was both possible and

Socialism probably seemed an apt name for this
potpourri of dissenting views because in ways both
critical and constructive all these doctrines were
focused on “social” rather than individual well-being.
The “social question” was a subject of wide interest,
but the prevailing view was that the wretched condi-
tions endured by the poor were as inevitable as they
were unfortunate. Those who challenged this com-
placency by subjecting social conditions to harsh criti-
cism and by demanding that they be changed funda-
mentally were likely to be called socialists. All the
doctrines, despite variations, stressed the need for
greater collective responsibility and a “strengthening
of 'socialising' influences,” as Cole observed (Socialist
I, 4). The term “communism” was sometimes
used as a synonym for socialism and sometimes to
denote doctrines stressing the need for revolution and
community of goods.

The socialist view was advanced in direct opposition
to the more widely accepted belief that the rights of
the individual against society and the state were
inviolable. The most popular writers on political econ-
omy in the first half of the nineteenth century generally
claimed that since individual liberty was the source
of all progress, its enhancement must be the paramount
aim of public policy. To interfere with the freedom
of exchange was to infringe upon the rights of man
and to place dangerous obstacles in the way of industry
and prosperity. Against this belief, the socialists argued
that the legal protection of unlimited acquisition
sanctioned the exploitation of wage-laborers by the
owners of capital. Any prosperity that resulted from
industry could therefore benefit only the privileged
few—the new aristocracy of wealth—at the expense
of the many, who would remain at least as impover-
ished as ever.

On the most universal level—and perhaps the most
fundamental—this objection to the gross inequalities
flowing from the protection of private property
expressed a profound and bitter moral indignation.
Labor was said to have become a commodity, the
laborer himself to have been robbed of his humanity
and degraded into a brute instrument of production.
“For the enormous majority,” Karl Marx protested,
the vaunted culture of European civilization amounted
to no more than “a mere training to act as a machine”
(Communist Manifesto [1848], trans. S. Moore, pp.
146f.). Charles Fourier, in effect elaborating Rousseau's
earlier indictment, drew up a meticulous catalogue of
the vices due to selfish absorption with the accumula-
tion of wealth. These vices included not only the misery
of the poor but also the unhappiness and boredom of
the rich. A phrase coined a generation earlier by the
Girondin Jean-Pierre Brissot de Warville and popu-
larized by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon summed up the
socialist critique of conventional morality in an incen-
diary catechism: “What is property? It is theft.”

The critics differed among themselves in the ex-
planations offered of the sources of corruption and in
proposals for reform. Some believed that moral
regeneration could come only in new, planned com-
munities. To Owen, the bedrock of social reconstruc-
tion was the principle that character is shaped by
environment. Moral vices, he thought, could be
reformed only by changing the conditions that
produced them. Étienne Cabet imagined such a new
community in his Voyage in Icaria (1840) in terms
derived from earlier utopian speculation. Fourier
sought to show that it was possible to diminish frustra-
tion and increase satisfaction without changing human
nature, simply by establishing planned, but voluntary
communities in which the diversity of human disposi-
tions would be matched with the requirements of the
division of labor. These ideas inspired the creation of
model communities in Britain and America and
generated great interest among social reformers in
many countries.

Others who could see little or no hope in small-scale
projects argued instead for grander efforts to reorga-
nize society. The economist Jean-Charles Simonde de
Sismondi pointed out, as early as 1819, that unless gains
from increased productivity were more widely distrib-
uted, national economies would suffer not only from
inequity but from periodic crises of overproduction.
Saint-Simon declared that the enormous potentialities
of the industrial system and of scientific research should
be organized to serve the needs of society. The domi-
nation of society and government by aristocratic idlers
(les oisifs) must be replaced by a combination of the
producers (les industriels). Louis Blanc was convinced
that the evils of the property system could be
eradicated without revolution or expropriation if the
state would extend public credit to “social workshops”
(ateliers) in which artisans in the various branches of
industry could form cooperative associations for pro-
duction and distribution. By eliminating the need for


private sources of capital, the state would make
exploitation impossible. Proudhon, by vocation a
tradesman, by temperament an anarchist, was suspi-
cious of all central authority and all collectivist
schemes. He preferred what he called “mutualism”—a
series of decentralized exchanges in which producers
would enter into contracts with each other to trade
goods and services. The object would be to prevent
exploitation but to retain the autonomy of the pro-
ducers and avoid imposing an oppressive central au-
thority in place of the market system.

Still others thought that changes of policy or institu-
tions could be expected only after a change of heart.
Constantin Pecqueur in France, Karl Grün, Moses Hess,
and Wilhelm Weitling in Germany, believed that an
ethical religion of humanity was needed either to fill
the void left by the decline of Christian faith or to
express common humanistic values to which all could
subscribe, regardless of their attitude toward religion.
The disciples of Saint-Simon, led by Barthélemy-
Prosper Enfantin, Olinde Rodrigues, Saint-Armand
Bazard, and Pierre Leroux, organized and directed a
sect to propagate the master's call for a “New
Christianity.” The cult was outfitted with all the ap-
propriate trappings, including clergy, ritual, and
devotional services, and took as its cardinal dogma the
“principle of association,” the Saint-Simonian equiva-
lent of Fourier's “law of attraction.” It served the same
purpose for the Saint-Simonians that Fourier's princi-
ple did for his followers, which was to provide a social
and moral analogue of Newton's law of gravitation.
Philippe Buchez and Proudhon, as well as Cabet—who
preached a “true Christianity”—felt that Christianity
itself, properly understood, was simply socialism by
another, older name. In Britain John M. F. Ludlow,
with the help of Frederick D. Maurice and Charles
Kingsley, both clergymen, founded a Christian Socialist

None of these spokesmen for socialism had an impact
comparable to that exerted by Karl Marx, whose writ-
ings became the touchstone of socialist thinking and
action. Marx differed most strikingly from earlier so-
cialists as well as from contemporaries in believing that
socialism could not be established by an act of will,
either through voluntary adoption or forced imposi-
tion, but would inevitably arise at an appropriate stage
of history. He couched his views in a doctrine that
was at once a philosophy of history, a science of soci-
ety, and a handbook of revolution. As a thinker, his
greatest talents were not so much those of an originator
as of a trenchant critic, a skillful borrower, and a
brilliant synthesizer. In the early stages of his thought,
when he developed his philosophy of history, he was
indebted most to Hegel. In the later period, he owed
many of his sociological and economic ideas and more
than a few of his revolutionary slogans to a host of
other writers.

The influence of Hegelianism upon Marx is well
recognized. It is not too much to say that all of Marx's
work bears the impress of his early encounter with
Hegel and the Left Hegelians. What is less well appre-
ciated is the degree to which the apocalyptic, quasi-
religious character of Marxian socialism was shaped
by Hegel's philosophical restatement of radical Chris-
tian theology. Hegel's first writings grew out of his
study of theology at Tübingen. In them he struggled
to come to terms with traditional Christianity and the
new Kantian ethics. The resolution he came to is best
expounded in his essay on “The Spirit of Christianity
and Its Fate” (1799) where he offers an interpretation
strikingly similar to the historical trinitarianism of
Joachim. Kantian ethics is explained as a reversion to
Judaism, or the religion of abstract law, a “juridical
order” in which man is a dependent of a remote law-
giving deity. Christianity, as the incarnation of God
in a single man, opens a second chapter in the unfold-
ing of morality: Jesus, as “the beautiful soul,” renounces
property and all other ties to the juridical order and
thereby transcends it. But Christianity, as a religion
of faith in God rather than of universal participation
in the divine, must be superseded by a final stage of
development. In this age of fulfillment, contradictions
of finite and infinite, subject and object, spirit and
matter, are transcended by a total identification of the
divine and the human.

These early speculations were the groundwork for
The Phenomenology of the Spirit (1807), in which the
whole of intellectual history is explained as the
externalization, in the “phenomena” of human thought,
of the mind of God. In two sections of the Phenom-
Hegel hinted at the social implications of his
philosophic history by describing self-consciousness in
terms of the relations between lord and servant and
by suggesting that the absolute freedom advocated in
the Enlightenment generated, as its dialectical oppo-
site, the reign of terror in the Revolution. In two other
works, The Philosophy of History (1822) and The Phi-
losophy of Right
(1821), the externalization of the mind
of God previously depicted in the development of
theology and philosophy is described in terms of social
history. Philosophically understood, history is the
process in which the “Idea” expresses itself concretely
and comprehensively through the medium of “world
historical” nations and individuals. It assumes a final
form in the constitutional state, which unites universal
and particular will. The state was to be distinguished,
however, from “civil society” in that the state ex-
pressed the union of public and private, while civil
society was the sphere of the private alone.

Hegel's teachings had their most immediate result


in the formation of two camps of disciples, the right
and left Hegelians. While the right Hegelians saw in
these teachings a powerful justification of existing in-
stitutions, the left Hegelians saw as Hegel's major
achievement the undermining of traditional Christian-
ity, in particular of its dualistic separation of God and
man, spirit and matter. Bruno Bauer and Marx, who
joined the group while a student, circulated what
purported to be an attack upon Hegel's atheism,
intending to demonstrate Hegel's true views, David
Friedrich Strauss argued in his Life of Jesus (1835) that
the biblical account of Christ was not to be taken as
literal fact but as a mythological reflection of an
incomplete stage in human consciousness, as Hegel had
suggested. Ludwig Feuerbach put the left Hegelian
case more radically by contending that religion was
simply a product of the mind of man. In The Essence
of Christianity
(1841) he described the idea of God
as a projection of what was essential in human nature
“purified, freed from the limits of the individual man,
made objective” (trans. G. Eliot, New York [1957], Ch.
i, Sec. 2, 14). The idea of heaven was simply the oppo-
site of all that was disagreeable in actual existence:
“The future life is nothing else than the present life
freed from that which appears as a limitation or an
evil” (ibid., Ch. xviii, 181).

Marx broke with the Young Hegelians because he
found their preoccupation with consciousness and the
individual both narrow and reactionary. In The Holy
(1845) and The German Ideology (1845-46) he
satirized “Saint Bruno” Bauer and “Saint Max” Stirner
for continuing to think only in terms of ideal or spirit-
ual freedom despite their rejection of traditional
Christianity. Feuerbach had at least pointed in the
right direction by making it clear that man was the
source and not the product of consciousness, that “man
makes religion;
religion does not make man” (“Critique
of Hegel's Philosophy of Right” [1844], trans. Bot-
tomore, p. 44). Feuerbach showed how Hegelianism
must be transformed, or redirected: “The criticism of
heaven is transformed into the criticism of earth, the
criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the
criticism of theology into the criticism of politics

To make this transformation was to criticize the
social conditions which Hegel and the Hegelians had,
in Marx's view, only rationalized. Whereas Hegel had
defined alienation as God's estrangement from Himself,
Marx redefined it as the estrangement of man from
his true or essential self and located the source of this
estrangement in the relation of the laborer to the
process of production. “The alienation of the worker
in his product,” Marx wrote in an early fragment,
“means not only that his labor becomes an object,
assumes an external existence, but that it exists inde
pendently, outside himself, and alien to him, and that
it stands opposed to him as an autonomous power. The
life which he has given to the object sets itself against
him as an alien and hostile force” (“Alienated Labor”
[1844], trans. Bottomore, p. 122). Because he is com-
pelled to work at the command of others and in occu-
pations that exhaust and debase him, the laborer can
scarcely scale the Promethean heights of creativity and
self-determination Marx saw as within his capacity.

It followed that Hegel's attempt to distinguish be-
tween the state and civil society and to argue that
universal and particular wills could be reconciled in
the state while civil society was left inviolate was only
an attempt to evade the inescapable logic of the
dialectic. The political economy of civil society—
precisely the subject Hegel had sought to exempt from
philosophic scrutiny—must be studied critically and
the contradiction between the general good and the
particular interest of the propertied exposed for what
it was.

Marx saw clearly where this criticism would lead.
Moses Hess had no trouble persuading him of the
ethical validity of communism. In 1842 Lorenz von
Stein explained French socialism as an ideological
outgrowth of the struggle for power within the “third
estate” between the middle class and the proletariat.
At stake, von Stein pointed out, was the control of
the democratic system that had arisen out of the revolt
against absolutism. Marx himself observed, in a com-
mentary on Hegel, that because the proletariat was
effectively excluded from civil society, it was the class
with the most compelling interest in the overthrow
of that society. He took as his personal objective the
task of providing the proletariat not simply with an
ideology but with a doctrine that would have the rigor
and status of science. Only if it had such a doctrine,
he believed, could the proletariat develop confidence
in the success of revolution and an adequate resistance
both to the seductions of bourgeois propaganda and
the temptation to engage in premature revolts.

Consciousness, alone, however, would not assure the
triumph of the proletariat or the achievement of so-
cialism as a result of its triumph. Proletarian con-
sciousness must be enhanced by revolutionary activity,
or praxis. In such activity the proletariat would train
itself to perform its historical role until eventually it
would accomplish the real “negation of the negation.”
Alienated labor, itself a negation of human potentiality,
would be negated by the proletarian revolution. In the
fellowship of the revolutionary cause, the proletariat
would experience the beginning of a return of its lost
humanity. The establishment of communism would
make possible “the return of man to himself as a social,
i.e., really human being, a complete and conscious
return which assimilates all the wealth of previous


development” (“Private Property and Communism”
[1844], trans. Bottomore, p. 155). Communism could
not represent the final form of emancipation because
it would still reflect a preoccupation, however nega-
tive, with production and possession. Genuine freedom
or humanism as Marx also described it, would become
possible only when life activity was no longer con-
strained by the requirements of production or the
limitations of material scarcity.

Marx came to a clear understanding of his own
alternative to Hegelianism only gradually. At first he
collaborated with the Young Hegelians in editing lib-
eral political journals in Germany. In 1843, compelled
to leave the country for his own safety, he went first
to Paris, where he met Friedrich Engels, his lifelong
collaborator, and profited from an exposure to French
socialist thinking. Expelled from France in 1845, he
went to Brussels, and from there to London, where,
after 1849, he made his permanent home. In 1847, at
the request of the Communist League, which he and
Engels were instrumental in forming, he outlined his
views in the single most inflammatory document of
nineteenth-century socialism, the Manifesto of the
Communist Party

In the Manifesto Marx summarized in bold and
eloquent strokes the principal tenets of “scientific”
socialism. The ponderous Hegelian and Germanic tone
of the earlier writings is pushed into the background
and replaced by a deceptively simple economic deter-
minism. Material or economic conditions are said to
be the main determinants of behavior and thought.
Changes in economic conditions lead to changes in the
relations among the producers, who invariably form
antagonistic social classes. The ruling class's refusal to
yield power compels its challengers to resort to violent
revolution. Continuous change is inexorable because
history is governed by laws of movement arising out
of economic necessity. Under capitalist organization,
the productive process reaches levels of size and inte-
gration at which capitalism itself, as a system of private
ownership, becomes obsolete and a “fetter” upon fur-
ther growth. Small-scale enterprise yields to large
monopolies; society becomes increasingly divided into
only two classes—the bourgeoisie, in whose hands all
capital comes to be concentrated, and the proletariat,
the wage earners who have only their labor power to
sell. The contradictions between capitalism and the
forces of production—the ensemble of technique and
capacity—generate ever-deepening crises. The class
consciousness of the proletariat is strengthened as
workers are concentrated in large factories and as their
conditions of life grow worse with every advance of
capitalist production. Finally, under the leadership of
the Communists, as the most advanced element of the
proletariat, the working class must rise up in response
to the ringing call with which the Manifesto closes:
“The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.
They have a world to win. Working men of all coun-
tries, unite!” (p. 168).

In much of his later work, notably in Capital (1867),
which remained incomplete at his death, Marx labored
to explain in detail how capitalism had arisen and why
it must fail, paradoxically—and dialectically—as a
result of its very success. He drew upon the work of
orthodox economists, including François Quesnay,
Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Jean-Baptiste Say,
as well as upon such critics of capitalism as Sismondi
and the British economists John Francis Bray, John
Gray, Thomas Hodgskin, and William Thompson. The
labor theory of value, which many other writers, from
Aristotle to Locke and Smith, had also used in one form
or another, became a cornerstone of Marxian theory.

Labor, according to Marx, was the sole source of
value. Capital, however, did not represent an accumu-
lation of individual labor. The “primary accumulation”
of capital was a result of forceful usurpation. Although
capital produced no value, to possess it in the form
of means of production was to be able to draw profit
from the labor of others. Profit represented the “surplus
value” extracted from wage earners by capitalist
exploiters, who paid the workers only enough to pro-
vide them with subsistence and appropriated for
themselves that portion of the workers' product above
what was required to maintain their subsistence. The
wage rate was kept at this low level because the con-
tinuous introduction of machinery resulted in an
“industrial reserve army” of the unemployed. In order
to survive competition, however, each capitalist would
be compelled to invest a part of his profits in machin-
ery, or constant capital. Since machines could only
repay their cost but could add no value independent
of what was produced by labor, the increasing propor-
tion of constant capital relative to variable capital, or
wages, would inevitably lower the average rate of
profit. Furthermore, as mechanization resulted in
increased technological unemployment, the workers
would be unable to purchase what was produced. The
result would be crises of overproduction (or under-
consumption), continually increasing in intensity, in
which smaller capitalists would be wiped out and the
proletariat would suffer “immiseration.” Final disaster
might be postponed by imperialistic investments in
underdeveloped areas, where subsistence costs, and
therefore wage rates, would still be low enough to
provide a sufficient rate of profit. In time, nothing
would avail: “The knell of capitalist private property


sounds. The expropriators are expropriated” (Capital,
trans. E. and C. Paul, Vol. II, Part 7, Ch. xxiv, No. 7).

The suppression of the revolutions of 1848 and 1849
was a disappointment to Marx and Engels but not a
disillusionment. Much of their prodigious intellectual
energy in the years that followed was devoted to
explaining the failure of these revolutions and to con-
sidering the tactics and strategy of insurrection. They
generally believed that revolutionary acts would not
succeed until the conditions were ripe and the class
consciousness of the workers fully developed. They
opposed sporadic and untimely acts of terrorism or
Coups d'état, such as had been organized by Auguste
Blanqui in 1848. They conceded, however, that both
tactics and strategy must be a function of national
conditions. In England it was reasonable to work for
the advance of socialism through parliamentary poli-
tics. In backward Russia, on the other hand, it might
be possible to leap directly from agrarian populism to
industrial socialism, without waiting for the develop-
ment of a mature capitalism.

Marx and Engels also participated in the formation
of the International Working Men's Association in
1863, hoping to establish their doctrine as the theoret-
ical basis of the socialist movement, and vied for con-
trol of the International with Ferdinand Lasalle, the
German trade-union leader, and Michael Bakunin, a
Russian anarchist. Marx defended the revolt of the Paris
Commune in 1871 in the name of the International,
even though he thought it premature, and used the
occasion to expound the need for a replacement of
bourgeois parliamentarianism by a “dictatorship of the
proletariat” to direct the transition to socialism. This
argument, in particular, was to have great force with
Lenin and other practical revolutionaries who declared
themselves pupils of Marx and resorted to his works
for guidance and vindication.

At Marx's death in 1883, socialism was still a mar-
ginal, heterogeneous, and highly fractious political
movement. As a theoretical cause, it was firmly estab-
lished throughout Europe and beginning to win
adherents elsewhere. The broad appeal of the doctrine
was no doubt due in part to the restatement of tradi-
tional socialist objectives in modern terms, not only
by Marx but also by Owen, Fourier, Saint-Simon, and
Proudhon. These restatements were made possible and
given special resonance by historical circumstances.
Great advances in productivity due to increasing
industrialization made it obvious that for the first time
in history there was no need to accept material scarcity
as an inevitable condition of social life. If scarcity was
unnecessary, so were grinding poverty and long hours
of labor for subsistence wages. For just this reason, the
harsh conditions endured by factory workers, even
though in some respects they may have been an
improvement over rural poverty, were felt to be
intolerable. Similarly, the democratic revolutions had
challenged the traditional belief that inequality and
hierarchy were also necessary, whether because they
were divinely ordained or essential to order. Socialism
could be advocated as “the industrial doctrine,” as
Saint-Simon described his system, and as the ultimate
form of democracy, the most perfectly egalitarian, the
most truly libertarian.

If conservatives saw in the new creed only the ulti-
mate form of mediocrity and mob rule and liberals only
a revived and more bureaucratic state-worship, the
socialists could respond that the society of the future
would resemble nothing in actual experience and
therefore could not be judged by existing standards or
by the failure of previous experiments. To votaries of
science, socialism made a special appeal. Saint-Simon
saw in “positive” science nothing less than the salvation
of the modern world. Fourier compared his own
discoveries in psychology with those of Copernicus,
Linnaeus, Harvey, and Newton in the physical sciences.
Marx was encouraged by the similarity between his
view of history as a progressive outcome of dialectical
conflict and the Darwinian hypothesis of biological
evolution by natural selection. In an age when science
was becoming an object of worship for the emanci-
pated, socialism could claim to be the application of
science to the problems of society, with its own theories
of motion, its own laws of inevitability, its own calculus
of motives, its own explanations of deviations and

To the young, to the workers, to the socially rejected
of all ages, all classes, all countries, socialism was also
the revolutionary doctrine par excellence, far more
enticing than natural-rights liberalism which, despite
efforts to extend its viability as a doctrine of social
reform, was badly tarnished because of its association
with such causes as laissez-faire, the inviolability of
property rights, and the limitation of the suffrage to
those meeting a property qualification. The interna-
tionalism of the doctrine appealed to some more than
to others, but it was not impossible to be both an ardent
nationalist and a socialist. The red banner borne by
the socialists had first been raised in the French Revo-
lution and it continued to exert a powerful attraction
upon the romantic imagination, rekindling the age-old
longing for primal innocence and paradise lost with
a symbolism evoking images of fire and blood.

The revolutionary socialists were convinced, like the
prophets of millennium before them, that the apoca-
lyptic finale of history required a last cataclysmic


conflict between the forces of light and darkness. But
all socialists could believe that regardless of how it was
to come about, the new society would make it possible
for alienated man to recover his lost humanity. Neither
the failure of premature and small-scale communitarian
experiments nor initial departures from the ideal by
revolutionary regimes are considered grounds for
despair. “Socialist man,” it is argued, can only be
expected to make his appearance and keep himself
from becoming corrupted when socialist institutions
are firmly and widely established. Like earlier
millenarians, modern socialists cling to the faith that
once the soil is prepared, a genuine and lasting egali-
tarianism will become a practical possibility. Actual
experience, like pre-redemptive history in religious
doctrines, is thought of as a time of trial and testing
when the work of preparation is to be accomplished.

In this faith lies the essence of the socialist idea. The
forms of thought in which it has found expression,
whether mythological, prophetic, utopian, or scientific,
the disagreements over strategy between advocates of
evolution and revolution, the policies that have in more
recent times been taken to separate orthodoxy from
heresy, such as nationalization and collectivization, are
all adventitious to the idea itself. The most essential
element of socialism—an element shared with democ-
racy, liberalism, and other humanistic creeds—is the
moral conviction that universal autonomy is the highest
object of civilization. This conviction acquires a
specifically socialist connotation when it is associated
with the view that genuine autonomy depends upon an
equal distribution of the proceeds of industry. The
ultimate aim of socialism—and the standard by which
systems claiming the name may properly be tested—is,
in the words of Marx in the Manifesto, to create “an
association, in which the free development of each is
the condition for the free development of all” (p. 153).


The relation of socialism to the development of the idea
of equality is treated in S. A. Lakoff, Equality in Political
(Cambridge, Mass., 1964). For comprehensive
accounts of the development of socialist thought see A.
Gray, The Socialist Tradition (London, 1946); O. Jaszi, “So-
cialism,” Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (New York,
1930), XIV, 188-212, which includes a bibliography. See
also, from the second edition (New York, 1968) articles by
Maurice Dobb, “Socialist Thought,” under “Economic
Thought,” IV, 446-54; Alfred G. Meyer, “Marxism,” X,
40-46; Daniel Bell, “Socialism,” XIV, 506-34.

The history of the concept of the “Golden Age” is treated
in A. O. Lovejoy and G. Boas, Primitivism and Related Ideas
in Antiquity
(Baltimore, 1935) and G. Boas, Essays on
Primitivism and Related Ideas in Antiquity
1948). Apocalyptic ideas and movements are examined in
N. Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium (London, 1957) and
J. Taubes, Abendländische Eschatologie (Bern, 1947). G. H.
Williams, The Radical Reformation (Philadelphia, 1962)
provides the most complete classification and history of the
left wing of continental Protestantism. For the Puritan left
see D. W. Petegorsky, Left-Wing Democracy in the English
Civil War
(London, 1940). See also G. H. Williams and A.
Mergall, eds., Spiritual and Anabaptist Writers (Phila-
delphia, 1957) and G. H. Sabine, ed., The Works of Gerrard
(Ithaca, N.Y., 1941). For utopian thought see
J. H. Hexter, More's Utopia: The Biography of an Idea
(Princeton, 1952) and F. E. and F. P. Manuel, eds., French
(New York, 1966). For Babeuf see V. Advielle,
Histoire de Gracchus Babeuf et du babouvisme, 2 vols. (Paris,
1884) and J. L. Talmon, The Origins of Totalitarian Democ-
(London, 1952).

The best survey in English of the rise of modern socialism
is G. D. H. Cole, A History of Socialist Thought, Vol. I,
Socialist Thought: The Forerunners, 1789-1850 (London,
1953), which contains useful bibliographic references in the
notes. See also G. Lichtheim, The Origins of Socialism (New
York, 1969), which includes a critical bibliography. See also
A. E. Bestor, “The Evolution of the Socialist Vocabulary,”
Journal of the History of Ideas, 9 (June, 1948), 259-302.

For non-Marxian socialism in the nineteenth century see
Charles Fourier, Oeuvres complètes, 6 vols. (Paris, 1841-5);
E. Poulat, Les Cahiers manuscrits de Fourier (Paris, 1957),
which includes a guide to studies of Fourierism; Oeuvres
choisies de C. H. Saint-Simon,
3 vols. (Brussels, 1859);
Oeuvres de Saint-Simon et d'Enfantin, 47 vols. (Paris,
1865-78); for Proudhon see C. Bouglé and H. Moysset, eds.,
Oeuvres complètes, 21 vols. (Paris, 1923-61); and R. Owen,
A New View of Society (London, 1927). For biography and
commentary see, for Fourier, F. E. Manuel, The Prophets
of Paris
(Cambridge, Mass., 1962); Ch. V, and the notes
contain a valuable critical bibliography.

The complete works of Marx and Engels are available
in German as Werke, 39 vols. (East Berlin, 1961-68). Most
of these works, with the notable exception of the Grundrisse
der Kritik der Politischen Oekonomie
and private papers,
are available in English. The editions cited in the text are
Communist Manifesto, introd. H. J. Laski, trans. S. Moore
(London, 1948); Capital, introd. G. D. H. Cole, trans. E.
and C. Paul, 2 vols. (London, 1930); T. B. Bottomore, ed.,
Marx's Early Writings (New York, 1964). See also Capital,
Vol. III, rev. ed. by E. Untermann (London, 1960). Capital
is also available in a three-volume edition, translated by
Engels and Unterman (New York, 1967). The early writings
are also available in English in L. D. Easton and K. H.
Giddat, eds., Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and
(Garden City, N.Y., 1967).


[See also Alienation; Christianity in History; Democracy;
Enlightenment; Equality; Historical and Dialectical Mate-
rialism; Law, Natural; Liberalism; Marxism; Marxist
Revisionism; Millenarianism; Perfectibility; Primitivism;
Revolution; Social Contract; State; Utopia.]